The Partial History of Serac Adventure Films by Michael Brown.
I got my start in the adventure film business through the encouragement of my brothers Gordon, Nicolas, and father, Roger Brown. My brothers and I grew up in a production office. Dad's office was part of our house. My early memories defined by the smell of 16mm film and Dad's pipe tobacco. Dad's partners and collaborators included greats like Bob Fulton (Touching the Void) and Barry Corbett (1963 American Everest Expedition). There was a steady stream of fascinating people visiting our house in Vail. His other friends and colleagues included Royal Robbins, Tom Frost, and Yvonne Chionuard. From a young age, we learned how to ski with a backpack loaded with camera gear.
My mom and dad had called it quits with each other even before I was born. My Gordon and I shuttled back and forth between our parents a couple of times a year. Mom moved with her new husband, Charles 'Leo' Hargrave, to a cattle ranch in Montana. Leo had served in the US Air Force during WWII as a bombardier stationed out of Framlingham, England. He survived 3 planes being 'shot out from under him' and was the oldest on his crew at 23. As Staff Sergeant, Leo was nicknamed Fireball Charlie for his temper and red hair. We called him 'Dad' and knew better than to cross him. Mom was a beautiful free spirit, artist, and committed environmental activist.
I graduated from CU in Boulder in 1990. I was 24 years old and working as a bartender. Brothers Gordon (older) and Nicolas (younger from Dad's second marriage) were already working for Dad (Roger) at Summit Films. They, especially Gordon, talked me into helping out and then pushed a camera into my hands. My brothers and Dad desperately needed help with two films simultaneously, a theatrical ski film called 'The Magic Skis' and a kayaking film in Southern Mexico for National Geographic Explorer. It was a crazy year with all three brothers working with Dad and filling our passports with stamps making films in faraway places. The arrangement didn't last long; we were all ambitious and desired to forge different paths.
In 1992 Gordon and I started Serac Adventure Films in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gordon soon joined another company with his then partner. Serac became a minimal DBA 'Doing Business As' for me to work with other companies where I mostly worked as a cameraman and editor. One job, in particular, had me 'commuting from San Francisco to Las Vegas every week to shoot a documentary film about a fantastical stage show called EFX at the MGM Grand.
In 1995 I moved back to Colorado to work for John Wilcox at American Adventure Productions. John gave me some other the greatest opportunities I could have ever hoped for and some that were beyond my capability. It was in this role that I worked with amazing adventure athletes and learned a lot about their approach to adventure. I was able to learn about climbing from Todd Skinner and Lynn Hill, mountaineering from Alex Lowe and Conrad Anker, Kayaking from Doug Ammons and The Snively Brothers, caving with Scott Davis, and many other pursuits and masters. Eventually, while making many adventure films, I unexpectedly developed an obsession with climbing Mount Everest. I had seen it from a nearby mountain while as we made a film and when I looked up I felt something powerful; I felt that I 'had' to reach the summit. Not long after, in 1999 on a skiing expedition to Mount Shishapangma in Tibet an avalanche tragically took the lives of team members Dave Bridges and Alex Lowe. I decided to move back to Boulder, Colorado, and work independently.
In the year 2000, I fulfilled the dream to climb Mount Everest. The climb and subsequent film were a financial disaster. Still, they caught the attention of blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer and his team, and they invited me to make a film about his historic ascent in 2001. That film was called Farther Than the Eye Can See and the project cemented a lifelong friendship with Erik.
With the help of then business partner, Dave D'Angelo, Serac Adventure Films ramped up to an exciting boutique production company. We and we pushed a stream of talented young filmmakers out into the world for ten years. The company headquarters occupied most of the available office space on the second floor of a building overlooking Boulder's historic Pearl Street Mall.
At this time we also created the Adventure Film School which, as it turns out was one of the most rewarding projects of all. There will never be a greater joy than sharing and then seeing a person light up at the moment of understanding. We transferred ownership of the school to a friend and frequent participant Nasa Koski who now runs it as part of her company Outdoor Momentum.
In 2011, along with Erik Weihenmayer and Don Hahn of Disney fame, I produced and directed a film with wounded Iraq, and Afganistan veterans called High Ground. The project was at a whole new level of production and both rewarding and challenging. It would lead to profound introspection about my place in the film business.
In the middle of making High Ground, Julia Buonanno, and I started dating and in the following years, we started a family and got married. We now have three boys. My family also marked other big changes. I no longer wanted to run a company or manage employees. I allowed Serac Adventure Films to shrink back to an individual 'DBA.' It was a big adjustment and, at the same moment, a huge relief.
We define our company's success with the films we have made and their impact on the world. The movies are what define success over time more than the size or the balance statement. Serac Adventure Films was an excellent incubator of many careers, and all who were involved are proud of their legacy. More recently, Serac and I are working on a small number of carefully selected projects that might span several years. An example of this new way of working is our latest film, The Weight of Water about Erik Weihenmayer kayaking the Grand Canyon. Produced by Julia and me out of our home office in Boulder, Colorado, we worked with people spread all over the USA. Editors worked remotely from Ashland, New York, and Denver. The color correction happened in Brooklyn; we recorded the music in Burbank and mixed the sound at Skywalker Ranch near San Francisco.
Film Festivals and especially the Mountain Film Festival in Banff, Alberta, have been a powerful inspiration and motivation since I first attended in 1992. I had always looked up at the prize winners with envy and awe, never in my wildest dreams, expecting to join them. This, even as I co-lead adventure filmmaking workshops concurrently with the Banff festival for 13 years with longtime friend Keth Partridge. Attending every year, I saw just how hard it is and how stiff the completion can be. Then to my delight and utter surprise, The Weight of Water did receive the 'Grand Prize' and the 'Best Film on Mountain Sports' in 2018. It went from there to many more awards, mostly audience choice. I felt okay with that affirmation, shifting gears, moving to the country to be a mediocre farmer, and Dad to my three boys. It turns out to be good timing; the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every aspect of the film business.
Here is to 2021 and beyond; may they be at least as satisfying and certainly less chaotic!